The Indian Seal Case Study: The Seal as Witness

sykes seal close up

Seal belonging to to Sir Francis Sykes. Image courtesy of Sir John Sykes.

The Seal speaks of power, of common interest, of the meeting of differing cultures, of trust and of friendship. It is a vivid illustration of the way in which the East India Company and its servants operated in the early years of the British Raj, that is nominally as vassals of the Emperor in Delhi while actual power lay with the Company. It witnesses the bond between the English Company Servant and the Banian, a business arrangement which progressed through shared aims to a friendship which lasted the lifetimes of the original participants. It symbolises the trust placed by Sykes in Cantu Babu, a trust which rose above difference of race and apparent inequality of status, as evidenced by his leaving the seal with the latter after his departure for England.  Dr Nandy has commented that it was the only European seal amongst a collection of some thirty, any other European seals having been removed by their owners.

Paradoxically it reflects the similarity as well as the contrasting fortunes of the Nandy and Sykes families in that wealth of itself brought trial and tribulation as well as the enjoyment and display of position and grandeur, especially in the way both families became mired in litigation and were sometimes brought low by unworthy or ill-starred inheritors.

Finally, while not the catalyst for the reunion, this small historic artefact does represent a remarkable connection between two families from two different continents, of two different religions and widely contrasting backgrounds, fortunes and cultures, which has transcended the centuries.

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